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What is a Section 18 assault?

For anyone who has been accused of section 18 assault, it’s necessary to understand what makes up this offence, the different factors of a section 18 assault and the penalties and punishment that could follow a guilty verdict. Here, our criminal defence solicitors help answer any questions you have regarding a section 18 charge.

What is a Section 18 assault? 

A section 18 assault is otherwise known as Grievous Bodily Harm (or GBH). This is an offence outlined in section 18 and 20 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861. The section describes the offence as “wounding with intent” or “causing grievous bodily harm with intent”. 

Generally the committed offence results in a serious, but temporary injury to the victim such as a broken bone or loss of blood. However, the attack might also inflict a more permanent disability such as a disfigurement, scar or loss of a sensory function. 

For it to fulfil a section 18 assault or grievous bodily harm with intent, the attack must have been premeditated and planned out in order to cause as much damage as possible. Examples of this include:

  • A repeat attack on the victim
  • A deliberate selection of weapons or adaptation of an article to cause injury (such as breaking a glass before an attack)
  • Making prior threats to the victim
  • Using an offensive weapon against a victim’s head
  • Kicking a victim’s head 

A section 18 assault can include but is not limited to the use of a dangerous weapon such as a knife or a bat. Under UK law, section 18 assault is the most serious form of assault that can be committed.

What is the difference between a section 18 assault and section 20 assault? 

A section 18 assault is categorised as grievous bodily harm with intent; that is to say that the offender has pre-planned the attack and gone ahead with it. 

This includes planning out the attack against the intended victim, using threatening behaviour prior to the attack and even selecting a particular weapon that will cause the maximum amount of damage (as mentioned above). 

In contrast, a section 20 assault does not include prior intent and is a spur-of-the-moment attack, rather than an attack that has been sufficiently planned in advance.

What are the section 18 sentencing guidelines?

A section 18 assault can be put into 1 of 3 separate categories that are graded based on harm caused and culpability of the offender:

  • Category 1 – greater harm and higher culpability
  • Category 2 – greater harm and lower culpability OR lesser harm and higher culpability
  • Category 3 – lesser harm and lower culpability

The harm caused is based on the extent of the injury received by the victim, if it was a sustained attack and if the attack had been repeated from a previous assault on the same victim.

The culpability is based on the motivations of the offender. This includes whether the attack was racially-motivated, based on sexual orientation or even due to the victim having a disability. In addition, culpability is measured on the degree of premeditation and deliberate targeting of the victim, as well as presumed hostility towards a vulnerable person.

What is the punishment for a Section 18 assault (GBH)?

A GBH sentence can vary depending on the sentencing guidelines outlined above. For more serious forms of GBH with intent, the maximum sentence could be life imprisonment. 

Normally, the sentences range from 3 to 16 years depending on the circumstances surrounding the attack. The likely sentence will be based on factors such as the motivation of the offender, harm caused to the victim and the extent of the pre-planning made prior to the attack taking place. 

The sentencing guidelines indicate a category range to be considered during sentencing so that the minimum sentence and maximum sentence for a section 18 assault can be clarified:

  • Category 1 – between 9 and 16 years in prison
  • Category 2 – between 5 and 9 years in prison
  • Category 3 – between 3 and 5 years in prison

If you have been charged with a section 18 assault, it is imperative that you seek legal advice immediately. Contact our team of criminal lawyers – and you’ll receive expert help and advice straightaway.